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History comes to life with new Montezuma County Heritage Museum

The new Montezuma Heritage Museum at 35 S. Chestnut Street will host an opening event on Oct. 22 at 2 p.m. (Courtesy Montezuma County Historical Society)
Museum opens Oct. 22 after seven years of planning, fundraising and development

The highly anticipated Montezuma Heritage Museum in Cortez will open to the public during a special ceremony Oct. 22.

Visitors can tour the exhibits of the new museum at 35 S. Chestnut St. from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. There is no fee for the event. A museum gift shop will be open with local books, clothing and items for sale.

A presentation in front of the building will provide seating, with live music and refreshments. The street will be temporarily closed between Main Street and First Street for the occasion.

Inside, various presenters will explain exhibits, including water expert Les Nunn, and Jude and Addie Schuenemeyer of the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project. Marsha Bankston will portray Lizzie Knight, the first female blacksmith in the area who ran a store and post office.

The museum was created by the Montezuma County Historical Society in cooperation with the county, area towns, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, residents, local organizations and government agencies.

“It has been a seven-year journey, and the time has finally come to present all we have done to tell the stories and history of this amazing area,” said project organizer Ann Brown, Historical Society board chair. “This community is so ready for a museum, there is a lot of excitement.”

A new history museum in Cortez opens Oct. 22. (Courtesy Montezuma County Historical Society)
Navajo artist Ed Singer created a mural for the new Montezuma Heritage Museum. (Courtesy Montezuma County Historical Society)
Dedicated volunteers made the new Montezuma Heritiage Museum possible. (Courtesy Montezuma County Historical Society)
Lumber companies helped to develop Montezuma County. (Courtesy Montezuma County Historical Society)

Key for the museum has been the knowledge of local historian June Head, who shared her expertise and research in the creation of many of the exhibits. Barbara Stagg is the volunteer museum director, and Joyce Lawrence in the volunteer curator.

Countless volunteers contributed their time and knowledge to the project, Brown said, and a successful grassroots fundraising campaign was key to its success.

“The community has really been behind this. I’m really humbled by the support for this museum,” Brown said.

The museum’s 2,200-square-feet display area features eight exhibits about the people, places and stories of the region.

“First There Was the Land” displays a large mural painted by Navajo artist Ed Singer that depicts this area 5,000 years ago.

“The Earliest People on the Land” highlights the Ancestral Puebloans, the Ute and Navajo Tribes, Spanish Explorers and government surveyors.

“Making a Living on the Land” shows the history of water development, and the industries of mining, ranching, farming, logging and fruit orchards.

“Towns and Communities Develop” explains the history and stories of Mancos, Big Bend, Cortez, Dolores, Dove Creek, Rico and many smaller towns such as Yellow Jacket, Sylvan, Lewis, and more.

“History of the Ute People” presents the culture, traditions and famous Chiefs of the Tribe, along with its economic development and stories of the different Ute bands that continue to thrive today.

“How We Lived” explores social life, making a home, schools, medical services, telephones and electricity in the area.

Another exhibit features remarkable people of the area, from the Sundance Kid to the founders of Cortez. An exhibit that is still a work in progress looks ahead to what the future holds for the county.

Many of the exhibits are still being added to and developed, said Stagg.

Cortez has not had a museum for decades. Collections have been stored in various places, and now come together under one roof.

In 2015, the county commissioners donated a building for the project, and it gained momentum.

A multiyear fundraising campaign raised $475,000 for the project and $375,000 was spent to extensively remodel the building and develop exhibits.

The museum will be open for at least four days a week for the rest of the year, officials said. Days and times will be released soon.

“It has been a tremendous amount of research. It is a very informative museum,” Brown said. “I think people will appreciate the work that has been done.”

Development is continuing on some exhibits, she said. A 15- to 20-minute video will be produced about the area that will run on a continual loop in the museum.

Entrance fees have not been decided on yet, but will be affordable. Eventually the museum hopes to hire an executive director and a small staff.

The museum also includes a Research Center and genealogy library.

For more information visit montezumamuseum.org and its Facebook page.